• Outdoors Outdoors

Scientists sound alarm as growing threat looms over coastal states: 'We are preparing for the wrong disaster'

"It's very abnormal and unprecedented."

"It's very abnormal and unprecedented."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists have issued a stern warning over the ongoing threat of rising sea levels caused by the ever-changing climate.

What's happening?

A detailed report by The Washington Post revealed that coastal communities across eight states in the U.S. are facing "one of the most rapid sea level surges on Earth." Since 2010, satellite data shows that the Gulf of Mexico has experienced twice the global average rate of rising sea levels, with more than a dozen tide gauges spanning from Texas to North Carolina registering sea levels that are at least six inches higher than they were 14 years ago.

While many understandably assume that extreme weather events like hurricanes are the source of these changes, experts revealed that rising water levels face a "newer, more insidious challenge" of accumulation caused by smaller-scale weather events.

"To me, here's the story: We are preparing for the wrong disaster almost everywhere," said Rob Young, a professor at Western Carolina University and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. "These smaller changes will be a greater threat over time than the next hurricane, no question about it."

Charleston, South Carolina recorded its fourth-highest water level since measurements began in 1899, with the city's average rising by seven inches since 2010. Jacksonville, Florida has seen an increase of six inches during that period, but Galveston, Texas experienced a whopping eight-inch increase in 14 years.

Why is this concerning?

These rapidly increasing water levels are uncommon, and to make matters worse, experts believe they are here to stay even if the rate of the rise tapers off eventually.

"Since 2010, it's very abnormal and unprecedented," said Jianjun Yin, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona who has studied the changes. "It's irreversible."

Rising global temperatures have caused warmer currents that cause water to expand. However, human-induced climate change caused by harmful gases and a lack of care for the environment have also contributed to these concerning issues.

The rising levels have particularly impacted the state of Louisiana, where wetlands that are meant to act as a natural barrier to catastrophic storms are now in a state of "drowning." This issue would make the state more vulnerable to future major weather events.

Across the rest of the American South, failing septic systems can lead to contaminated water sources. During big storms, roads can fall below the highest tides and leave residents in the community cut off from essential services like medical care. Also, the future value of homes in flood-prone areas is being impacted by rising rates and limited policies from insurance companies.

What can be done about it?

Officials are trying to figure out ways to combat these issues. In Galveston, for example, there is a plan to install several pump stations over the next few years using funding provided through federal grants. However, it was noted that each pump is expected to cost over $60 million, which is likely to exceed the city's annual tax revenue.

We can help by taking steps to reduce our own carbon footprint, like switching to electric vehicles, supporting local food sources, choosing native species when planting or volunteering for local cleanup projects in areas where rising sea levels pose a threat.

Join our free newsletter for cool news and cool tips that make it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider